Although long-term care enjoys many new discoveries and treatments each year, our industry also is faced with a growing number of challenges — from funding cuts to staff storages to the dire need for memory care research, facilities and services. With the increasing numbers of people who are expected to receive dementia-related disease diagnoses in the coming years, we need solutions now — innovative spaces where older adults can live with Alzheimer’s and dementia with grace and dignity, not just suffer from these diseases.

Here’s how we did it in one market at Loretto.

As you enter the The Borer Memory Life Community at Loretto’s The Nottingham retirement community in Syracuse, NY, you are transported to what feels like an entire world contained within one building, designed with thought for a very specific type of resident: those living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases.

In late 2020, Loretto completed a multi-million dollar investment to offer state-of-the art, dedicated memory care unique to the local market. This journey was years in the making.

Loretto has focused on memory care for decades. And over the past five years, we embarked on one of the biggest undertakings of our history to create an innovative and yet practical solution to this major social problem.

During the initial research period starting in 2015, Loretto conducted research and focus groups to garner insights from employees, board members, residents and family members. A group of Loretto representatives and memory loss experts also toured dementia programs and facilities across New York state to sample what already was available. As part of the same effort, the group learned about The Dementia Village, located in The Netherlands, which was very progressive and worth referencing in our own plans.

Our research looked at clinical care, mental and emotional well-being, creating a sense of purpose and more to inform the design of the physical structure as well as staff member training, programs and connecting with residents.

After several years of planning, the community broke ground in 2018 and opened in early 2021. It incorporates technologies and industry best practices to not only meet the needs of today but also prepare for the needs of the future.

We meticulously planned the living space to include indoor and outdoor areas where residents can enjoy everyday life safely without the restrictions that commonly are found in many assisted living communities.

The interior is designed with home-like structures and features meant to make residents feel more comfortable and help them navigate the space more easily. Living units have 10-foot ceilings and window seats, which typically are seen in private homes but not assisted living communities. Another feature that is uncommon for a dedicated dementia care community is the couple apartment, spacious two-person suites with two beds that allow couples to live in the same apartment.

This community also features a wide range of technologies, services and programs that studies have shown are beneficial for individuals living with memory loss.

Our dedicated staff members complete the CARES (Connect with the Person, Assess Behavior, Respond Appropriately, Evaluate What Works, and Share with Others) training program from HealthCare Interactive, developed with the Alzheimer’s Association, along with the Hand in Hand training program created by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Our team also uses personalized memory boxes at the entrance to each apartment for cuing, red plate ware to stimulate appetite, and electric radiant heated flooring in all bathing areas to encourage self-care.

Our neighborhood design concept and safe wandering areas give residents a sense of independence and freedom. Each apartment has a different color, front door and roofline to aide in wayfinding. Pet therapy, music therapy and a meditation room staffed with therapists also help soothe agitated minds. And one of the most special features is the two-story, 2,000-square-foot indoor garden that incorporates an abundance of natural sunlight, continuous walkways, an enclosed water feature and seasonal plants for therapeutic gardening opportunities.

The community also is connected to the entire Nottingham campus via an enclosed pedestrian bridge, making it easy for those who might live in other areas of our campus to stay connected to a loved one at our memory care community.

But our investments are not confined to the walls of this community. Our partnerships include Clarity Clinical Research, a dedicated research clinic that specializes in Alzheimer’s disease; the Alzheimer’s Association; the Geriatric Department at SUNY Upstate Medical University; and Central New York’s Alzheimer’s Disease Assistance Center. It’s not just about meeting today’s needs, but looking ahead and anticipating the needs of the future.

Every detail in this community is meant to preserve our residents’ dignity while supporting them as they continue to find life’s purpose. And we hope our efforts inspire others to pursue similar solutions to this global challenge.

This is just the beginning. We believe our industry will see more residential facilities following in this trend. We believe that The Borer Memory Life Community is more than just another milestone in one organization’s commitment to tackle major social issues like Alzheimer’s and dementia care; it’s the future of memory care.

We try our best to describe it, but the only way to truly understand it is to see it through an online video tour. We hope the results of our research and our developments help the entire industry address this major challenge. And we hope this sparks even more dialogue for future advancements in care.

Jennifer Ingerson is vice president of housing for Loretto in Syracuse, NY. In addition to overseeing The Borer Memory Life Community project, she oversees Loretto’s five assisted living communities as well as Loretto’s community residences. Ingerson has been at Loretto for more than 25 years.